By Stephanie Choate
Williston’s Exit 12 off Interstate 89 could have a new look soon.
The Circ Alternatives Task Force—a group tasked with researching alternatives to the long-planned and ultimately scrapped Chittenden County Circumferential Highway—last week voted to move forward with a set of detailed scoping studies aimed at reducing traffic congestion in the towns of Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester.
The scoping studies will investigate a reworked design of Exit 12, new grid streets connecting Harvest Lane with Maple Tree Place and a host of spot improvements at congested intersections.
The Williston-Essex Network Transportation Study, known as WENTS, was conducted by Resource Systems Group Inc. and released Jan. 9. It identifies two strategy packages for alternatives to the Circ Highway.
RSG Senior Director Bob Chamberlin highlighted the strategy packages’ respective benefits at a public meeting hosted by the Williston Planning Commission on Feb. 5.
At previous meetings, both Essex and Williston selectboards expressed strong interest in the first strategy package—an extension of Redmond Road and a new bridge across the Winooski River connecting to Vermont 289. The first package would cost approximately $47 to $66 million.
But based on the WENTS study, the second strategy package—the revamped interchange design and related improvements—proved to be both more effective and cheaper, Chamberlin said, costing approximately $30 to $49 million.
Strategy Package 2 was recommended by the WENTS Steering Committee and endorsed on Jan. 31 by the Circ Alternatives Task Force, which voted unanimously to move forward with scoping studies for the second package.
“It was pretty clear to the steering committee and also to the task force that there was a clear decision here,” Chamberlin said.
Both strategy packages come with a set of core improvements—including the “Crescent Connector” bypassing Five Corners in Essex Junction, improvements to Route 2A and James Brown Drive in Williston, multiuse pathways and transit improvements—costing approximately $17 million.
The WENTS study looked at projected traffic congestion, delay and environmental impact in 20 years, and investigated how effectively each strategy package would address those issues, which are projected to quadruple in 2035.
Projections showed that a new bridge over the Winooski—the first strategy package—would only slightly reduce congestion, delays and emissions. More effective was the redesigned interchange and related improvements, though traffic is still projected to increase drastically in 20 years.
“This was the one thing that really had the most dramatic impact,” Chamberlin said of the reworked interchange. “This is something we think could really pay off for the area.”
Michele Boomhower, Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization director, said the bridge over the Winooski is unlikely to be built in the near future, due to funding constraints conveyed by the Agency of Transportation.
“The Agency of Transportation made that crystal clear that we’re not able to have it all,” she said.
Scoping studies are scheduled to begin in February to identify specific problems and solutions for: the interchange design and grid steets at Exit 12; mainline improvements to Vermont 2A and at the frequently backed up intersection of Vermont 2A, Mountain View Road and Industrial Avenue; and improvements to the intersection of Vermont 117 and North Williston Road.
Studies are also scheduled to improve pedestrian and bicycle travel—particularly a multiuse path between Taft Corners and Williston Village—as well as transit improvements.
Other studies are slated for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Resident Jim McCullough suggested that traffic calming and safety measures, such as wider shoulders, also be considered on North Williston Road.
“North Williston Village is a beautiful little hamlet that’s being destroyed right now by traffic that’s going way too fast, that gets air over the railroad tracks,” he said.
As for the Circ right of way, Boomhower said the state intends to hold onto it.
“The idea is the state will continue to retain and preserve that for some future use,” Boomhower said, mentioning that possible future uses include a trail.
Another public meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Williston Town Hall. For more information, visit www.circtaskforce.com.